One of the hardest parts of losing weight is that any menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner can be attached to so many occasions it is hard to avoid temptation. Having a business meeting? Look, there are doughnuts! Catching up with an old friend? Let's go out to lunch! Going on a first date? Let's do dinner!
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While peer pressure can be hard to resist even as an adult, one of the best ways to keep control of your diet is to have a plan. If you know exactly what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and you have that food close at hand, it is a little bit easier to stay on track toward your weight-loss goals.
Before you can create a lean and nutritious weight-loss menu, you need to understand what your body needs so it can function at its peak and how to provide that in the form of food. Fortunately, this is neither complicated nor difficult.
There is so much contradictory information available that deciding what weight-loss plan to follow can be an intimidating endeavor. Your first step is to eliminate any fad diets, such as extreme fasts and diets that severely restrict which foods you can eat.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, the best diet to follow is one that you can stay on for life. It should include plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, lean protein — such as that found in grilled or baked chicken and fish — and the kind of healthy fats you can find in avocados and olive oil. Low-fat or nonfat dairy is also a good source of nutrition when losing weight.
Harvard goes on to recommend that you also look at the level of stress in your life and see if you might need to learn better coping skills. Figuring out if your relationship with food might have caused you to become overweight might also help you in your quest to lose the extra weight and keep it off.
Importance of Exercise
A healthy, lean and nutritious diet is a great first step in your weight-loss plan, but diet alone may not be enough to melt those pounds away. According to the experts at Concordia University - Saint Paul, exercise is a crucial part of any weight-loss program. Not only does exercise help burn calories and build lean muscle tissue, but it also releases endorphins that elevate your mood. It is easier to stick to a diet if you are not cranky.
Concordia reminds you that cardiovascular exercise, known as cardio, burns calories, while weightlifting and other resistance exercises strengthen bones and build muscle. Lean muscle is denser than fat and it burns more calories at rest, which means your metabolism will work at a higher rate even when you are sleeping.
You do not have to go to the gym every day to gain the benefits of exercise, and you do not have to stick to the same workout every day. Concordia reminds you that aerobics such as running, walking, biking and swimming will help you lose weight, but so will weightlifting. Mix it up so you don't get bored — and don't forget to rest one or two days per week to let your body recover.
Calculating Calorie Counts
Counting calories would seem to make sense because the most basic tenet of weight loss is to take in fewer calories than you burn, remembering that it takes a deficit of around 3,500 calories to burn 1 pound of fat. But all calories are not created the same. The experts at the University of New Hampshire remind you that it is more important to take in nutrient-dense calories than it is to simply count them.
The reason for this, UNH explains, is that when you take in empty calories such as those found in cookies, chips, processed white flour and refined sugar, your body will store them as fat because it cannot process the empty sugars fast enough. The university offers these suggestions for low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods:
- Animal proteins, such as chicken and fish
- Beans and legumes
- Fats, such as those found in avocados and olive oil
- Whole grains
Read more: Recommended Caloric Intake For Weight Loss
Breakfast may not actually be the most important meal of the day, but skipping it can lead to overeating as the day goes on, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. If you have time to start the day with protein, such as eggs, you may find that you are not hungry again until lunch. Other high-protein options are yogurt or peanut butter on whole-grain toast.
If you are pressed for time or prefer lighter fare first thing in the morning, the Academy suggests whole-grain waffles or oatmeal, a fortified and sugar-free cereal, topped with fresh fruit. You can also toss some yogurt, soy or nut milk, a banana and some frozen berries into the blender for a quick and nutritious smoothie.
The trick, the Academy explains, is to do as much of the prep work as you can the night before. Omelets can be made the night before, as can a breakfast quiche or frittata. Cut up fruit for smoothies, or buy frozen fruit that has no added sugar. Set the table for breakfast, so that is one less thing you have to do in the morning.
Luscious Lunch Options
Lunch can be the hardest part of your day, especially if you work near too many fast food options.
The health experts at Yale University recommend eating every three to four hours to keep from getting so hungry that you cannot make smart meal choices. Yale also recommends keeping each meal about the same size rather than skimping at breakfast and lunch and then having a large dinner. This helps keep the calories evenly distributed throughout the day instead of saving the majority of them all for the evening.
A good lunch option is a salad with protein such as chicken, fish or a hard-boiled egg. A small sandwich on whole-grain bread paired with a piece of fruit or carrot and celery sticks is colorful, textural and tasty.
Delicious Dinner Choices
Dinner can be problematic — it is so often not just a meal, but family time, date night or another social occasion. Dinner at home can also feel like the satisfying and comforting end to a long and busy day, so you want it to be more than just a lump of grains and bland chicken.
The professionals at the International Sports Sciences Association suggest making sure that your plate is as attractive as it is delicious. Use different colored vegetables, which should take up at least half of your plate. Season your meat or seafood well so that it smells as good as it looks.
ISSA also reminds you that weekends can be a difficult time when you are trying to lose weight, so make sure you pay as much attention to the nutrition and the presentation of Saturday and Sunday meals as you do during the week. Use any extra time you might have on Sunday to do some meal prep for the upcoming week as well.
The Skinny on Snacks
If you are not losing weight even though you stick to your meal plan at breakfast, lunch and dinner for weight loss, you might have to take a second look at your snacks. It is very easy to give in to cravings for things like chips or candy between meals, but this can easily sabotage your weight loss goals.
The University of Washington suggests pairing small portions of a protein-rich food with one that contains healthy carbohydrates. The protein and fiber will keep you full while also providing energy. Examples include an apple and a piece of cheese or a smear of peanut butter; a handful of unsalted nuts with cheese and dried fruit; yogurt with fresh berries; celery with nut butter or cream cheese.
Making easy, low-calorie snacks ahead of time and keeping them handy can go a long way toward helping you stay true to your meal plan. Investing in a small insulated bag that can keep snacks cool can help keep you on track, even when you do not have access to a refrigerator.
Read more: 10 Healthy Snacks You Can Eat On the Go
Best Beverage Bets
Staying hydrated is crucial not only to weight loss but to maintaining your health in general. Staying well hydrated, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, helps your body deliver nutrients through your bloodstream to your organs, regulate your body temperature, prevent infections, keep your joints lubricated, regulate your moods and make sure you are thinking clearly and sleeping well.
While it might seem like a good idea to make diet sodas a part of your weight-loss program, this is actually not the smartest thing you can do according to Columbia University's Go Ask Alice! advice site. Sodas of any kind do not offer the pure hydration that water does. In addition, they often contain caffeine, which is a diuretic.
Alice goes on to explain that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda have been linked to overeating. Many diet sodas also contain a large amount of sodium, which can make you retain water as well as raising your blood pressure. If you cannot handle the taste of plain water, consider adding lemon, lime or other fruits to it. A splash of pure fruit juice in sparkling water is also a refreshing choice.
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Which Diet Is Best for Long-Term Weight Loss?"
- Concordia University - Saint Paul: "The Science of Weight Loss"
- University of New Hampshire: "Emphasize Calorie Quality Over Quantity"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "6 Tips for Better Breakfasts"
- Yale University: "Weight Management Strategies for Success"
- International Sports Sciences Academy: "8 Simple Ways to Eat a Balanced Diet"
- University of Washington: "Snacking Smart to Power Your Day"
- Columbia University: Go Ask Alice! "Diet Soda Versus Water for a Workout - And the Winner Is..."
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "The Importance of Hydration"